Lava Tube in Mojave National Preserve

A lava tube is one of those crazy natural phenomenon that you just have to experience, and while the best one in California is up by Lassen National Park called the Subway Cave this lava tube is worth the rough road you have to drive to get to it. When I say rough I do mean that I wouldn’t take this drive in a small Honda Civic; while not horrible it is pretty sketchy in some parts, especially with the rocks, however, if you make it there you will be rewarded with a story to tell.

Lava Tube 18


  • Quarter mile each way to the tube
  • About 500 feet long
  • 3 feet tall in its shortest part but still about 10 feet wide there
  • Best time to see the light is around mid day – 11AM – 1PM but of course it depends on the clouds and other factors as well.

Lava Tube 17

After driving 5 miles down an unmarked road in the North-West part of the preserve (the road is exactly 15 miles from the Kelso Depot so watch your odometer) you will reach the turn out for the road to the lava tube trailhead. The trail head is in the middle of nowhere and is 5 miles from the main road so be smart if you head out there as it does not see much traffic.

Lava Tube 2

From the trailhead you will be walking over tar black volcanic rocks as you head up a small incline.

Lava Tube 13

After about a quarter of a mile you will see a spur to the right hand side and a small sign, this is the way you go and the tube entrance is pretty close ahead

Lava Tube 11

As you walk up to the entrance take notice of the two holes that you will pass, one big and one small, those are the areas that the light shines through when you are in the tube, so you are pretty much walking over it right now.

Lava Tube 7

After the second hole you will see the entrance to the tube and it’s steep 16 steps down into it.

Lava Tube 6

The stairs are steep and rickety but not scary at all, however when you get down and start heading in you will want to bring out your flashlight.

Lava Tube 10

As soon as you get into the tube you will see the small area you need to go under, it’s not too long so it shouldn’t be too scary but you will have to get small as you go through.

Lava Tube 3

As soon as you hit the main cavern you will be greeted with the amazing view from the light cascading elegantly into the cave floor. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this as it is amazing. The light shines like a beacon of hope in the dark cave.

Lava Tube 4

After this area you will see the end of the cave and another small beam of light, not as spectacular as the other but still awe-inspiring.

Lava Tube 16

I spend a lot of time in this cave and noticed that the small dust particles in the air are what makes the beam of light so particularly beautiful. They silhouette the view and bring the beam to life.

Lava Tube 5

When you have taken all the pictures you want you can head back out the entrance and back to your car. Be sure to keep this area nice as it is a great lava tube in Southern California and worth protecting.

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  • We loved this lava tube! We made it several years ago in our Corolla, but honestly I’m not sure how… we actually took the wrong road on the way there, which had really deep sand and was way worse than the right road (which we found on the way back luckily). I guess we just kept moving and totally lucked out not getting stuck. Exciting, a little nerve-wracking, but totally worth it! Such a cool photo spot with that beam of light.

    • Thanks for the comment, that seems like a crazy story! Glad you made it without being stuck! I agree, this is a great place for photos.

  • Jessica

    This place looks so cool! Right on time because I was planning on going to the kelso dunes this friday. But we’re driving a lexus that has pretty low clearance. It probably won’t make it huh? Do you think its possible to park somewhere else and walk there? :O
    Absolutely love your blog by the way! I’m trying to visit hit up every place you post. Thank you so much for all the detailed pictures and directions!

    • I would say that a Lexus would probably have trouble on the road as it is bumpy and has some areas with lots of volcanic rock. I have heard people do it in small cars but I wouldn’t suggest it. It is pretty hard to park and walk to it as the dirt road you drive on is about 5 miles so it would be a very long hike. You can stop at the Kelso Depot though and ask for their recommendations. I have a lot of other unique stuff to do in the Mojave on my blog though as well that are easier to get to. Hope that helps!

  • Bill Dickson

    Any idea how long it would take to drive from here to the trailhead for Kelso Dunes. We are considering doing both tomorrow.

    • It should take about an hour to drive, mostly because the last 5 miles on the dirt road is slow going. I would guess it is about 20-25 miles on the main road from the Kelso Dunes turn off to the Lava Tube turn off (remember there is no sign for the lava tube turn off).

      • Bill Dickson

        Thanks! Hopefully we can make it. We want to make sure we are at the top of the dunes by sunset. I’ll let you know how it goes.

        • Awesome, can’t wait to hear about it!

  • Scott

    I dont own a truck or suv so with you saying not to drive my yaris out to this place, where would i park in order to hike in? 5 miles is not that bad… Any info on where to start my hike in would be great! thanks!

    • Scott

      Or maybe a gps location for the site? I see they have a rest stop not to far away…

    • Scott, thanks for the comment. The turn off is almost exactly 15 miles from the Kelso Depot. I watched my odometer as I drove out from the depot. From there it turns into a dirt road that you can try driving on if you would like but it is not maintained and has sand and lava rock. From this turn off on the dirt road it is about 5 miles to the trailhead down the road. The GPS coordinates are 35.213776, -115.753147 for the trailhead according to Hikespeak post on it here hope that helps

  • Paul Anich

    Hey Josh, great website mate! I’m planning a roadtrip in late November and I was thinking of taking a detour from the Needles Freeway to see this. I am from Australia and not sure of how long it would take to return back to the freeway and from what I have learn’t it looks like a great place for rattle snakes to hibernate in. Can you help me out with this. Cheers

    • Thanks for the comment, it would be a long detour since it is in the North part of the park. Probably would take you at least an hour each way to get to the tube and back. Hope that helps

      • Paul Anich

        Excellent, cheers

  • Jess

    Hey josh, all I have is a chevy Colbalt do you think it would be crazy difficult is that’s the car I was driving down the 5 mile dirt road?

    • When I went, it probably would not make it. That was about a year ago though. I would recommend asking the rangers at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center when you go to get up to date road information.

  • Hey there Josh. Kickass blog!! My husband and I are going to go here for our 11th anniversary. Sounds so amazing!

    • Thanks for the comment, I hope you have fun!

  • Kelvin Choi

    What is the best time to see the light?

    • I went in the middle of the day, I would assume between like 11 and 1 is probably best as the sun is overhead.

  • Ynot

    Josh, thanks for this writeup, big fan of your site. I’m considering going here along with the dunes in December. Sorry about another vehicle inquiry, but I have a Jeep Renegade front wheel drive and really don’t want to have to rent. Could you define “pretty sketchy” please? Soft sand? Boulders? Cliff edges? Traction? Etc.?

    • Thanks for the comment and for the kind words about the site! I haven’t been to the area in a couple years, so I can’t comment on the current conditions. This type of car would have been able to make it when I went though. Soft sand was the only real issue. You can call and ask the rangers if you want to check prior to going though.